Publicly funded wowsers never rest in their attempts to whip up moral panic over our supposed enslavement by alcohol. Even when statistics point to declining liquor consumption, which you’d think would be welcomed, these doomsters remain resolutely po-faced.
RNZ led its 7 o’clock news bulletin this morning with a report that Australian teenagers are turning away from alcohol. Deakin University researchers found that only 45 percent of teenagers in 2015 had drunk a full glass of alcohol compared with 70 percent 15 years earlier.
Nicki Jackson, executive director of New Zealand's Alcohol Healthwatch, said that was in line with what was happening here. Reason to be positive, surely? Er, no. According to Jackson, we mustn’t be complacent.
“Yes, there’s been declines [sic] in young people choosing to take up drinking but we’ve seen no declines whatsoever in the style in which young people drink. They’re still drinking very heavily, so that culture hasn’t changed.” Even good news is bad news, then.
Then comes Jackson’s alarmist crunchline: “hazardous binge-drinking” has been getting worse (she cited no figures, and the official definition of “binge-drinking” is dodgy anyway) and the government needs to raise the price of alcohol.
Nothing new here: it’s the same tired old refrain. In fact the only surprising thing about this non-news item was that someone at RNZ considered it important enough to lead the bulletin.
Alcohol Healthwatch would realise, of course, that Sunday morning is a quiet time in newsrooms and would have timed its statement to take advantage of that fact. Obviously, it could also count on the RNZ duty editor giving the non-story prominence, because RNZ journalists – in fact journalists generally – tend to be sympathetic toward sanctimonious pressure groups pushing moral panic buttons.
There was evidence of that in another alcohol-related story on Stuff three days ago. This one, sourced from the taxpayer-funded Health Promotion Agency, cited research that purportedly showed older New Zealanders were drinking to greater excess and more frequently than adults in eight other countries.
According to the research, New Zealand had the second-highest proportion of 50-plus drinkers after England. And what were the other countries? The United States, South Africa, China, Mexico, Ghana, India and Russia.
Of the nine countries with which we were compared, only two – England and the US – could be described as culturally and socially similar to New Zealand, and even the US is very different from us when it comes to social habits.
It follows that no self-respecting researcher could draw any useful conclusion from this “research”. It’s a nonsense. Far more meaningful (and ideologically unbiased) are the per capita alcohol consumption figures compiled by the OECD, which consistently show New Zealand to be roughly in the middle of the table and behind comparable countries such as Britain and Australia.
This doesn’t deter academics such as Andy Towers from Massey University, who was quoted in the Stuff story, from extracting pessimistic conclusions from the available “research”. Towers was quoted as saying New Zealanders aged 50-plus had “concerning” drinking habits.
There was a time when journalists were trained to be sceptical and to “doubt everything with gusto”, in the words of my late colleague Frank Haden. Not so these days, when claims by moralistic academics are accepted unquestioningly and meaningless surveys are cited in an attempt to convince us, contrary to all our everyday observations and experience, that New Zealand is awash in alcohol.